My father was born in Croatia (which a few years later became part of Yugoslavia) after his father left for the United States. Almost fourteen full years went by before my father saw his father. And yet, our family album contained this photo of my grandfather, my infant father, and my grandmother, standing side by side.
Don’t believe everything you see. My father explained to me that two different photographs were taken, one in Croatia, one in the US, and then they were composited into one photo, so that both my grandfather in this country and my grandmother and father in another country could each have a family portrait. My father told me that many immigrants had such photos made. Apparently there was a desire for such photos, and up sprang the clever services that provided them.
The line separating my grandfather “here” from my grandmother and father “there” was more formidable than the invisible line in the photo. The wide line of the Atlantic Ocean separated them. To cross that line, money had to be paid as passenger fare on one of the Cunard Lines immigrant ships. After fourteen years of digging ditches in Pennsylvania and working in a foundry in Ohio, my grandfather, Marko Grguric, earned enough money to pay for passage for his wife and son. Thus my grandmother and grandfather were finally reunited, and my father got to meet his father.
More than once my father shared with me the story of his childhood in a small village in the mountains of northern Croatia. He was a child who yearned for his father and later, as a young boy, he craved to leave the place where he was always hungry.
I wrote a picture book telling the story of my father’s childhood, and I titled the manuscript The Line Between. For years I tried to sell this manuscript to editors at various publishing houses. The rejection letters I received contained a mixed bag of comments, ranging from “compelling” and “well written” to “immigration stories are tough to sell” to “too quiet.” There were also outright “not for us” responses and no responses at all.
Just as in my father’s childhood, so in publishing there is a formidable line. In publishing, that line separates what editors deem right for the company they work for and what they deem not right — the “not” including a wide array of manuscripts ranging from poorly written to poorly told, to stories that are well written and well told but won’t earn a profit. For most editors who rejected it, The Line Between was a well written story that was “quiet” and therefore would not, in their opinion, sell.
All writers I know of have unpublished manuscripts stored somewhere: file cabinet, box in the basement, or computer. I am no exception, and The Line Between is not the only unpublished manuscript on my computer.
Like many writers, I don’t give up on a story I believe in. A Confederacy of Dunces took sixteen years before an editor bought it. Louis L’Amour collected 200 rejects before selling his first book. And so I continue to submit The Line Between to picture book editors.
I just hope that selling the story to an editor doesn’t take fourteen years.